One of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit is fear of the Lord (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1831). The other six all seem like gifts we would want to get, but who would want to open up a brightly wrapped box of fear on Christmas Day or your birthday?
Do your RCIA candidates know fear?
Scripture is filled with passages that command us to “fear the Lord.” Sometimes it is the enemies of the Lord or enemies of the Israelites who are supposed to fear the Lord—with good reason. Often, though, the people God loves are told that they must also fear the Lord. Proverbs, for example, tells us, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7).
What’s going on here? Either God can’t tell the difference between the people he wants to smite and the people he loves, or there must be two different definitions of “fear.” And indeed there are. Most of us use the word “fear” to describe the emotion we have when we are confronted by a growling Rottweiler or when we are watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Or, if we are putting “fear” and “Lord” in the same sentence, we may be afraid of divine retribution for our sins.
When we speak of fear as a gift, however, it has more of a sense of awe. Not just awe though. Overwhelming, knee-buckling awe. I think of the first time I stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon, for example. The sense of power, beauty, and, holiness that I experienced is something I’ll never forget. It was indeed a beginning of knowledge, just as the proverb says. I began to know that God was so far beyond anything I had ever imagined or ever could imagine. “Awesome” is not quite the right word to describe the experience. “Fearsome” is not perfect, but it comes closer.
A more precise word, but less emotionally powerful, is “transcendent.” I felt transcendence.
When we are catechizing those who don’t yet know or barely know the overwhelming love of God, we can slip into a lot of language that makes God seem warm and fuzzy. At least I do. Inquirers show up with plenty of “fear” of God already—afraid of divine punishment because they haven’t been in church or haven’t prayed enough or whatever. I want to go way over to the other end of the scale and tell them they have nothing to be afraid of. That’s probably the right thing to do at the beginning.
Jesus is not my copilot
But at some point, we have to take the inquirers and catechumens to the lip of the Grand Canyon and stare down. We have to teach them to “fear the Lord” in a transcendent way. God (or Jesus) is never going to be their buddy. God is the God on High, the one beyond all imagining, the one who dwells in unapproachable light. We don’t need to be “afraid,” but we do need to bow down in worship.
Fear of the Lord is the gift that leads to true knowledge. Make sure your inquirers and catechumens discover that great gift.
How do you teach fear of the Lord?
What are your tips and techniques for helping the inquirers and catechumens experience the transcendence of God? Do you have a specific example you can share so the rest of us can learn?
(This series on creating “wow” experiences is based on the ideas of Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Books.)